On a Cal team with three quality running backs, is Zach Maynard — gasp — the best runner of all?
Well, no, of course not, but Maynard did rush for a career-high 78 yards in the Bears’ 31-17 victory at Washington State.
It helped that Maynard did not get sacked a single time on Saturday evening, meaning he did not get negative rushing yards on the stat sheet on account of the offensive line. Getting sacked zero times after 26 in the previous four weeks thereby marks the end of the “Sack” Maynard moniker. With 10 rushes and mostly crisp passing, perhaps we can change that nickname to “Attack” Maynard.
With comparatively less defensive pressure, the senior had time to complete 14-of-23 passes for 188 yards. Most of those passes and yards went to half-brother Keenan Allen, whom Maynard tended to stare at before throwing darts to. But they were mostly bullseyes, as Allen caught 11 passes for a whopping 165 yards.
For what seems like the umpteenth time, Maynard threw an interception in the first quarter. But, as usual, Maynard rebounded from the poor pass. Against an inferior Cougar defense, Maynard faked handoffs and had holes to run right through.
It wasn’t just Maynard — Cal’s entire ground game was nearly unstoppable. Four Bears had more than 50 yards rushing, led by C.J. Anderson’s 116 yards. The senior power back averaged 7.7 yards a carry — second to Maynard’s 7.8 — and reached the end zone twice. Isi Sofele and Brendan Bigelow rushed for 63 and 58 yards, respectively. As a whole, Cal rushed for 318 yards, easily the squad’s season high.
But it was Maynard’s running that was the most surprising. Despite Maynard being a mobile quarterback, considered to be a dual threat, there have been few Maynard runs this year that were designed, or not a result of defensive pressure or well-defended receivers. But on Saturday, Maynard took advantage of his speed and the Cougars’ ineptitude. Of his 10 rushes, four were for first downs and one was a touchdown.
The running ability adds another wrinkle to Maynard’s game, which has been improving gradually, if not gut-wrenchingly slow, since his debut in 2011. These last two weeks, despite three interceptions, have perhaps been Maynard’s best two-game stretch of his career — 39-of-53 passing, 484 passing yards, seven total touchdowns, two wins.
Maybe it was the presumably lucky eye black that went from his jaw-line all the way to his nose. Or maybe it was a Washington State defense ranked 105th in the nation. Either way, Maynard rose to the occasion and left Cougar defenders dead or, rather, zombielike, in their tracks.
He is unlikely to replicate that performance next week, when the Bears’ offense challenges Stanford’s stingy defense, highlighted by a powerful front seven. But Cal’s newfound ground success, particularly Maynard’s, is one more thing for which Cardinal head coach David Shaw and company will have to prepare.
Jonathan Kuperberg covers football. Contact him at jkuper[email protected]